As most of you know by now, my (Perry Jameson) life is going to change in the next several weeks with the addition of identical twin girls to our family. This will not only have an impact on my wife, daughter, son and I, but also on the seven pets we already have.
Our pets are part of the family. Ariel, our 14-year-old Labrador, is even older than our present children. We want the addition of the twins to not be stressful for the pets, for the pets to not hurt the girls, and for the pets to not get hurt by the twins or all the new baby stuff in the house.
There are several steps that can be taken to reduce the stress of an upcoming baby's arrival. The more stressed your pet is the more likely they are to injury the baby or develop other behavioral problems.
Veterinary visit: During the first months, you will not have much free time. So before they arrive, make sure your pet is up to date on vaccines and you have at least six months of heartworm and flea prevention. If they are on other medications, make sure you have plenty so you do not have to scramble for a refill during those first few busy months. Also, pets are like people in that if they feel good, they are less apt to act up. Have your veterinarian make sure your pet is healthy. Much easier to be proactive and react to a problem now than have to deal with a sick pet and new born child.
"Sibling rivalry": In our home we already have kids and pets, so everyone is used to sharing time. However, if you are adding your first child into a home with pets, they will notice your attention shift. Get them used to this by gradually spending less time with them. A sudden drastic change will only lead to problems.
Address behaviors now: Adding a baby to the house is great motivation to address behavioral problems. Negative behaviors such as biting, scratching and jumping are easier to correct now. The ability to stop your dog with a quick command is an invaluable tool. This a perfect time to take your dog to obedience classes to learn this skill.
Trim nails: For both cats and dogs, trim their nails to reduce the chance of the baby getting scratched.
Baby visits: Have a friend with a baby come over for a visit. This will introduce the smells and the sounds to your pets so they will not seem so new on the actual arrival day.
Acclimate to sounds/smells: Use the rocking chair. Turn on the mechanical swing. Play a recording of a baby crying. Let your pets hear any new sounds the baby or baby gear may produce. Put some baby powder and lotion on yourself for them to smell. By letting them hear and smell these new things now, they will already learn not be alarmed by them.
Play dolls: Get a baby doll and carry it around swaddled as you interact with your pets. Walk your dogs with the doll in the stroller. This introduces pets to changes in routine and even body language.
Off limits: This is the time to make certain areas of your house off limits to your pets so they can acclimate to the changes. Get them used to certain doors being shut or baby gates. To discourage cats from jumping onto cribs and furniture, you can use double sided tape - they hate it.
Now I will share a list my wife, Holly, has given me for after the babies' arrival. This will insure the pets' and babies' introduction goes smoothly.
Introduce smells: It is a good idea to bring clothing or even a diaper the baby has worn home several days before the baby. This will introduce his or her smell to your pets so it is not a new odor to them.
Greet pet first: It is important for mom to greet the pets without the babies first. They will have not seen her for several days and want her attention.
First interaction: The pets should be allowed to sit beside you while you hold the baby. Reward them with petting or treats for good behavior. This will teach them that being around the baby is a positive event and that they will be rewarded if calm around them, too.
Maintain routine: Pets like routines. It makes them feel safe and reduces stress. Try your best to keep the same feeding schedule and exercise schedule you always have, even if shortened.
One-on-one interaction: It is important that you still give your pets time that is all theirs. It will be shorter than in the past, but they still want and even need it to prevent behavior problems.
Never force your pet and baby to interact. This teaches your pet that this is a negative experience. They may respond by acting up and even biting the child.
Before the baby arrives, go ahead and arrange for pet care while you are at the hospital. This will reduce the stress for your pets and yourself.
Finally, in our home, we have to make sure Flipper, our hound dog, does not hurt himself by eating a diaper or something he should not. Be cognizant that to pets those dirty diapers and slobbered on baby toys smell great. They are also the perfect size to cause a gastrointestinal obstruction.
By following these steps, the twins' introduction into our home should be safe and stress free for everyone.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or veterinaryspecialtycare.com.